My Favorite Social Media Mistake and What I Learned from It

Everyone, at some point, makes a mistake on social media. These mistakes can range from the benign (e.g., including a broken article link in a tweet) to the more serious (e.g., posting photos from a party in college*). And don’t even get me started on a former congressman’s multiple social media missteps or even those of one of the biggest pop sensations in the world-come on, Biebs. As a Canadian, you have to know that the LAST people you want to upset are hockey players; people so tough that they come back and play in the SAME PERIOD after taking a puck to the face.

But whether your errors are big or small (hopefully, it’s always the latter) you can learn a lot from social media faux pas. In this post, I will share a specific social media mistake I made, what I learned from it, and how it changed my approach to one platform in particular.

Always Check Your Dates

I had only been working at the Harvard Business School for a few months when I came across a Mashable article titled, “44 Female Founders Every Entrepreneur Should Know.”  Reading through the article, I noticed that several HBS alumni were on the list. This was great news, since I had been on the lookout for content on alumni. So, with this particular article in mind, my social media “plan” was put in motion. I tweeted the link to classmates of each alumnus/a who made the list, included an “Alumni Career News” update on LinkedIn, and posted a message on Facebook promoting our alumni and the article.

I did all of this on May 6, 2013.

The only problem was that the article was dated August 6, 2012.

In my haste to share the article on social media, I had neglected to review its publication date–definitely rookie mistake. I was informed of my error several hours later by a well-meaning tweeter.

While I cursed myself out for making such an obvious error, something interesting was happening, especially on Facebook. My social media mistake was turning into the most popular item that I had posted on Facebook, evident by the statistics below.

Likes: 46

Link Clickthroughs: 368

Comments: 3

Shares: 13

Total Interactions: 430

I was pleasantly surprised (okay, okay I admit it. I was pretty “pumped and jacked,” as Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll would say) by these numbers. Up to this point, our top post on Facebook had resulted in only 169 total interactions.

But was this a social media anomaly? Was it something I could replicate–the result, not the error? Soon after the data came in, I wasn’t sure. But what my social media gaffe did was help me develop a formula of sorts.

Alumni Achievement-Related Content + Facebook = Increased Activity/Engagement

Before this, I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into what I posted on Facebook. I would include information on events, articles by faculty, etc. and hope for the best. I saved my real strategic thinking for Twitter and later LinkedIn. But, after this experience, I started thinking much more about how to leverage Facebook by focusing on a particular type of content. So, with the formula above in mind. I went to work and here’s what I found.

-Of the 3,200 Facebook interactions we had after May 6, 2013, 1,127 (almost 40%) of them were generated by alumni achievement-related content.

With these numbers in mind, I can say with confidence that our alumni, at least when it comes to Facebook, respond more positively to a certain type of content. This finding influenced, and continues to do so, how I approach engagement with our alumni on this platform.

In closing, I took some important lessons away from my social media mistake, which are…

1) You will make mistakes when using social media “and that’s okay,” as Stuart Smalley would say.

2) You can (and should) learn from your social media errors. If you’re lucky, they will help change your approach for the better.

3) Look closely at the mistake/s. Are there best practices you can put into place so it/they can be avoided in the future?

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertBoc.

*Note to my younger readers: Don’t put anything on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media platform that you wouldn’t want your parents to see. Unfortunately, the “my mom is on Facebook app” doesn’t exist. Besides, the last thing you want a prospective employer to come across is a photo of you on Facebook hitting a beer bong.

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